Mentor Me North Georgia volunteer becomes role model for boy without father’s presence

On Father’s Day, many in Forsyth County will celebrate the men who influenced them, taught them right and wrong and cared for them.

For 11-year-old Shawn Payne, he gets that all from his “big brother.”

Since February 2014, Shawn has been paired with Steve Halliday through Mentor Me North Georgia, a local program that partners kids with positive role models through one-on-one mentoring. Shawn’s mother, Amanda Jones, said she has seen a big change.

“The program is really amazing,” Jones said. “Steve has literally lifted him up, and the second we started out with Steve, everything started changing little by little, day by day, more and more and was a huge, huge blessing for us.

“No sooner than we got Steve, something happened and they built this huge bond.”

Jones said Shawn and his younger brother do not have contact with their biological father and that the bond with Halliday is like family.

“Shawn gets to do a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t believe a kid gets to do because I, being a single mom for 11 years, never could afford to do some of the stuff [Halliday] does with Shawn,” she said. “It’s not just about the money; it’s about getting that father-son role that he never has even known. 

“He literally calls him ‘my big brother.’ He tells me all the time, ‘Can you call my big brother and find out when we can hang out?’”

Halliday said he was encouraged to get involved in Mentor Me by another member of a local networking group. When he signed up to the group, he was given forms and interviewed to pair him with a child with similar interests.

Six weeks later, he met Shawn. 

“They try to pair someone that they think is going to be a good fit, and Shawn and I have been a really good fit; he’s interested in a lot of the same things I’m interested in,” he said. 

Halliday and Shawn have built a relationship around ice cream, fishing and sports, especially Georgia Tech football.

“We go hang out at Georgia Tech for football games, and he really enjoys that,” he said. “Usually, I just pick him up after school and we go to Dairy Queen or somewhere and get some ice cream. He likes to throw the football around or baseball. He’s into sports, and we go over to the rec center at Central Park and shoot basketball, that kind of thing. Occasionally, we’ll go to the driving range.”

All the activities give the two a chance to talk about school, sports or anything else that might pop up. 

“He’s just kind of is like a sponge,” Halliday said. “They’re watching you and absorbing all the things, learning more from modeling or whatever you want to call it, how to act in public and just trying to create a good moral aptitude and what life’s about – opportunities that he wouldn’t get normally.”

It’s not all fun and games, as Shawn’s grades and other issues have needed attention.

“His grades have gotten 100 percent better, and his teacher is the first one to tell us he thinks Steve is a huge part of that,” Jones said. “He’s better at sports. He’s not afraid as he used to be about certain things, and Steve just teaches him how to live life.”

“His whole attitude I think has changed,” Halliday said. “He wants to do the right thing and stay out of trouble and not get in trouble at school and take school more serious.”

In 2015, Halliday was selected as Mentor Me’s Mentor of the Year. Joners said her son was allowed to share some of his thoughts at the ceremony. 

“He stood up there and said, ‘I never knew what it was like to have someone care about me like a male role mode until Steve came along,’” Jones said. “He’s a huge part of our family. We get together for birthdays, Christmas – we don’t miss a beat.”

This week, Shawn and his brother were away at church camp, where he was awarded most well-mannered camper one day. Jones said both Shawn asking to go to camp and receiving the award were direct results of his time with Halliday.

“For him and me and our whole family, that is humongous,” she said.  “I texted Steve right away … and I said, ‘Thank you so much for everything you do for Shawn because he wouldn’t have gotten this if you hadn’t come along.’”